Deconstruction of a Scene: American Beauty

17 04 2007

This is hopefully to become an either weekly or monthly feature on a past film and why a particular scene works to illustrate the general feeling of the entire picture or in some cases how it fails. I would love to hear your insights and thoughts on this idea. And maybe even a few suggestions as to other movies that could be showcased in this format. I hope you enjoy.american-beauty.jpg

American Beauty
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Copper and Thora Birch.
Released: 1st of October 1999
Runtime: 122 minutes
Rating: R for strong sexuality, language, violence and drug content.
A complete humanistic picture, American Beauty showcases the dark underbelly of the American dream. The movie centers around a family – all the member of which are dissatisfied with the direction and blandness of their lives. What benefits the film is that all the parts are played by great actors, and not marquee stars. A story with such a subtle complexity requires a group of thespians capable of translating the message without seeming forced. Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening deliver career defining performances and director Sam Mendes solidifies his name as a premiere visionary. The vast majority of times film such as American Beauty are ignored during award season in lieu of something more dramatic and a war epic, but the film managed five Academy Award wins including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. The film masterfully captures a beautiful story of the search for fulfillment – and it is one you’ll over and over again.


Setting up the scene:
This is the major turning point in the film and also the source for some of its biggest laughs. At the beginning we are given this seemingly normal family but hints are dropped to suggest otherwise. The distinct characters and clever script keep audiences mesmerized as the transformation takes place. Before the “dinner scene” we are given an understanding about each of the characters and a glimpse to where it all is heading.

The Scene (this post may contain images and language that is not suitable for all ages):

The scene I have selected is the dinner scene in which the three main characters sit down for a very lively family meal. The scene reflects the point in the movie where Lester Burnham (Spacey) has had enough with his dreary existance and quits his job. The decision doesn’t sit will with Carolyn (Bening) and this is were the conflict in the scene is sparked. Their daughter, Jane (Thora Birch) is caught in cross hairs of her parents distaste for one another. The meat of the scene is in the back-and-forth bickering between Lester and Carolyn, which delivers a wide array of emotions from anger, hatred, and even humor. spaceyab.jpg
American Beauty has many assets, but this helps elevate past a good film you see once to a great film you see dozens of time and can quote its lines. The film serves as a cautionary tale about the search for meaning and fulfillment as each of the characters is effected differently by their very own search. The only travesty is that Annette Bening failed to win the Oscar for Best Actress despite her equally spectacular performance.

Here it is Enjoy!




4 responses

19 09 2007
Liana Merete

oh we didn’t care,we made it very clea. Liana Merete.

21 10 2007
Mihangel Caiaphas

and then i came out, mommy move me down sout. Mihangel Caiaphas.

14 09 2010

I think that this “deconstruction of a scene” is done poorly. What is it about Thora Birch’s presence/placement in the scene represent? How does the sound and the lighting add to the film’s main themes? How does the dialogue play out? What do Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey overlap & deliver their lines? What does the blocking accomplish?

Thora Birch’s mere presence in the dinner scene (and Spacey’s insistence that she stay to witness it) demonstrates that she fully comprehends the facade that her parents put on outside of the walls of their “home.” She understands the dysfunction that each of her parents exhibit privately & hide publicly. Her placement at the dinner table was mentioned but not elaborated upon. She sits between Spacey & Bening, signifying that she is the only thing that is keeping the two together. She is the bridge between the couple that have nothing more in common.

The “Lawrence Welsh shit” playing in the background implies some sort of air of civility & sophistication that is contrasted greatly by the bickering between the married couple. The use of candles versus fluorescent lighting embodies Bening’s artificiality already alluded to by the background music’s presence. It also darkens scene (obviously), and gives the whole scene a somber mood. The dining room itself does not have too many adornments on the walls, so it shows that beyond the beautiful facade, there is little substance there, reflecting the “lie of a happy marriage” motif recurring throughout.

Spacey politely asks for the asparagus, yet his requests are unheeded. Bening interrupts him with her frantic ranting about her own anxieties. Birch says nothing but a declarative statement of detachment, mirroring her own distance between each parent.

Spacey is the only one who breaks the space of the other two characters in the scene. The horizontal space of the scene can be split into thirds, with Bening, Birch, & Spacey going from left third to middle third to right third, respectively. Spacey cross occupies all three thirds to get the asparagus he so fervently wants & is denied.

What could this indicate? Spacey’s Lester Burnham is on a quest to find efficacy in his comfortable, suburban world. He is crossing boundaries a normal suburban dad would not otherwise. He transforms. This turning point is where it’s so evident.

17 09 2010
American Beauty (2001) « Martnehz: Ideaphoria

[…] By martnehz Leave a Comment Categories: Uncategorized So I came across this blog post on American Beauty and decided his “deconstruction” of the dinner scene was done […]

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